Connect with us


Holier than thou? These Indian women shattered prevailing notions long before Western women’s emancipation



Title: Heroines — Powerful Indian Women of Myth and History; Author: Ira Mukhoty; Publisher: Aleph; Price: Rs 499; Pages: 211

Long before the concept of women’s emancipation became a realisation in the Western world, Indian history and mythology were already adorned by a series of prominent women figures who shattered all prevailing notions of the time. A new book wonderfully captures this facet.

Although the notion of heroism among men generally revolves around “physical strength and extravagant bravery” the same proposition is not easily defined for women, argues author Ira Mukhoty in “Heroines: Powerful Indian Women of Myth and History”.

The book paints engrossing portraits of eight “Heroines” from Indian history and mythology, throwing light on a very significant aspect of the country’s cultural heritage.

“Men have had, historically, a much wider tapestry against which to play out their feats. Stormy rivers to navigate and savage continents to discover and subjugate. Women’s heroism has tended to be of a very different nature, less easily contained and categorised,” contends Mukhoty.

In “Heroines” we meet lotus-eyed, dark-skinned Draupadi, Dharma Queen, whose story emerged almost three millennia ago; the goddess Radha who sacrificed societal respectability for a love that transgressed convention; Ambapali, a courtesan, who stepped out of the luxurious trappings of Vaishali to follow the Buddha and wrote a single, haunting poem on the evanescence of beauty and youth.

We also come across Raziya, the battle-scarred warrior, who proudly claimed the title of Sultan, refusing its fragile feminine counterpart, Sultana; the courageous Meerabai who repudiated her patriarchal destiny as cloistered daughter-in-law of a Rajput clan; the gentle Mughal princess Jahanara: who claims the blessings of both Allah and the Prophet Muhammad and wishes ‘never to be forgotten’.

And then there are two more known figures, Laxmibai, widow, patriot and martyr, who rides into legend and immortality fighting for her adopted son’s birthright; and Hazrat Mahal, courtesan, begum, and rebel queen, resolute till the very end in defying British attempts to seize her ex-husband’s kingdom.

The underlying theme that connects all the women in the book is their “unassailable belief” in a cause for which they are willing to fight, in one form or another, unto death. “In every case this belief, whether it has to do with a divine love, a mystic truth, or a denied kingship, leads them to a confrontation with a horrified patriarchy,” writes Mukhoty.

More importantly, each of these women are a challenge to the accepted status quo of the honourable woman living in the Indian society. The author has chosen Draupadi, a much contended character from Indian mythology, as the fulcrum of the offering.

“Though she fails and makes mistakes, and is shockingly volatile, she will remain all her life true to the call of her heart. She maintains her claim for vengeance and justice though it casts her, alone, against all the forces of the ruling patriarchy,” says Mukhoty.

And then there is also the example of Laxmibai, who was transformed into a “jezbel, an object of libidinous curiosity” in colonial narratives. She was later hailed as a freedom fighter while her previous role as an able diplomat and ruler has been clearly wiped off our memories.

To cut a long story short, all of these women are those who may not be accepted as “the honourable woman”. Women in India, for instance, have long been urged to follow Sita’s example of “wifely submission” while the image of Draupadi “rails against a culture that values a king’s duty and a brother’s loyalty above a wife’s honour”.

The author, to a large extent, succeeds in restoring these remarkable figures to their rightful place in our collective psyche. The offering makes for a refreshing read and is a well-researched, documented and splendid attempt to correct some of our historical ignorance.

More than anything else, this book is a fitting mirror to the Western world, reminding them that long before women rose to equality in that sphere, these Indian women had already risen to the highest levels of Indian society.

(This review is based on an advance copy received from Aleph Book Company. Saket Suman can be contacted at sake[email protected])

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Unhappy Naresh Agarwal joins BJP, says SP prefered Bollywood actress over me as RS candidate



Naresh Agarwal
Naresh Agarwal joins BJP (Photo-ANI)

The Samajwadi Party leader, Naresh Agarwal on Monday joined BJP in the presence of Railway Minister, Piyush Goyal and BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra.

While joining BJP, Naresh Agarwal who is currently the Rajya Sabha member of Samajwadi Party said, “I am joining the BJP as I think that until you are in National Party, you cannot do anything for the society. I am also impressed by PM Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and UP CM Yogi. I still respect Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ram Gopal Yadav, but the current scenario in SP where it is doing a coalition with Congress and sometimes BSP is very sad.”

The leader joined BJP after the Samajwadi party nominated actor and politician Jaya Bachchan for the upcoming Rajya Sabha election in April. The party had to choose between Naresh Agarwal and Jaya Bachchan as they don’t have enough legislators in the assembly to support their candidate.

Talking about Samajwadi Party’s Rajya Sabha candidate, Jaya Bachchan he said, “My comparison was drawn with those working in films… I was rejected for those who dance in films, work in films. I found it not proper. Nobody found it proper.”

Agarwal became tv channels and newspaper’s headline for making controversial statements. In July 2017, he courted controversy in Rajya Sabha by associating Hindu Gods with alcohol, while speaking on the issue of mob violence related with cow protection. However, after his statement, he was made to apologise by BJP.


Continue Reading


India, Pakistan should decide to think of peace: Farooq Abdullah on ceasefire violations



Farooq Abdullah
National Conference party leader, Farooq Abdullah (File Photo)

Kashmir:  National Conference party leader Farooq Abdullah on Tuesday spoke about the situation on the India- Pakistan border in Kashmir. 

The leader speaking on the continous ceasefire violation said,”this will continue to happen.”

The leader urging both the countries to find a diplomatic solution said,”firing will continue to happen on both sides unless the two nations decide to think of peace.”

“The sooner they think about it, the sooner it will stop,” he added.

However this is not the first time when Abdullah has asked for diplomatic solutions, earlier the leader stated that war is not the solution of the Kashmir issue.


Continue Reading


Kabul seeks closure of Taliban’s Qatar office



Taliban office in Qatar
Taliban office in Qatar (Photo- The Newyork Times)

Doha, Feb 24: Kabul has started discussions with the Qatari government to close the Taliban office in Doha as it has had “no positive consequence in terms of facilitating the peace talks with the group in Afghanistan”, a senior government official has said.

“There is no need to keep the office open”, said Mohammad Hanif Atmar, National Security Advisor to President Ashraf Ghani, in an interview with Middle East newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat earlier this week.

“The aim behind opening (Taliban’s) Qatar office was to start official peace negotiations with the terror group from the address, but so far no official negotiation from the office has been started with government. Even a single step has not been taken forward in the peace process through this office,” Qadir Shah, a spokesman for Atmar’s office said.

“It had no benefit for us even after seven years… It is better to close it,” Atmar said.

He also said that Kabul has so far witnessed no sign of “sincere” cooperation from Islamabad in counter-terrorism efforts.

The Taliban had earlier reached out to the US with an offer for talks and urged people to pressurize Washington to bring an end to the invasion of Afghanistan.

The Taliban had said that they preferred to resolve the conflict that began in 2001 through peaceful dialogue and warned that the use of force alone would complicate the problem in Afghanistan.

The group had called on the “American people and the peace-loving Congressmen” to pressurize US leadership to end the occupation of the Asian country, a precondition that Taliban has always maintained to begin any negotiation.


Continue Reading

Most Popular